ABC - Early Days at ABN 2
When asked by Bob Sitsky and Doug Grant to write about our early days with the ABC I hadn’t realized how hard that would be. I started by jotting down events that I could remember when all of a sudden I would remember something else. It’s amazing to see how far back things come to mind. I know every time I read it or talk to someone there’s something else to write about. This could go on for quite sometime, anyway I have called it ‘I remember’ because that’s how it happened.
November 1956 saw the start of ABC television, I was only in 2nd year of high school but can still remember going up to Ferguson Radio in Victoria Ave., Chatswood just down from Archer Street to watch it in the window. Only the month before, we had witnessed the opening of TCN9, operational from packing cases. All this was pretty new and exciting. I had only been playing around with electronics for around 18 months after my father had brought home a crystal set and headphones.
At the end of 1957 an advertisement appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald for technicians-in-training for the ABC television service. Having duly completed my Intermediate certificate I applied for one of these positions, and was selected for an interview in the old Federal Engineering Cottage which was situated next to the entrance of the ATN7 transmitter site (the building was later to become installation). The interview was as I recall it handled by John Poll and John Star, Ken Middleton had to be excused.
I was offered a position on the 6th February 1958 and after a medical examination (in Liverpool area from memory) I started work on 17th February 1958. For a sixteen-year-old the place was mind boggling. Arthur Gray was given the task to show me around, this mainly consisted of studio 21 (remember that Studio 21 was only officially opened on 29th January 1958). Children’s Monday Partytime was going to air that afternoon, and remember everything was live in those days. The first live play from Studio 21 was the "Multi Coloured Umbrella’ on Wednesday January 29th 1958 after the official opening of the ABN studio complex.
People I can remember at that time were Len Richardson, great cameraman. I can also remember one time when Len and with Bill Dayhew driving the camera crane while ‘on air’ during a ‘Woman’s World’ program dolling on an 8" lens. Roger Catchpoole was very good technically. (I took over from Roger as Head Broadcast Technical Department Brisbane in 1988.) Dave Meadowcroft, Barry Quick, Harry Adams, Dave Tapp and John Hicks were others to name a few that I also remember. How many can remember Robyn, Daphne and Doreen Castle from make-up or for that matter Zilla and her cats? What about that old canteen out the back of the scenery runway.
John Watson was our training Supervisor who worked tirelessly in providing a very comprehensive interface with the North Sydney Technical Collage and its staff of the Radio and Electronics School. Robert Mondel was the head of that department at that time. Remember Stan Graves, he was a great teacher. I remember in 1st year, if you happen to leave your copy of RT&H (Radio, Television and Hobbies) on the desk he would pick it up, sit down the back (after putting work on the board) then the next minute was asleep. Also what about Bob Hutchins, from the workshop, another great help to all of us, especially when it came to aligning our RT&H IF strips. I can remember Bob Hutchins organizing John Marsden and I to go and install a television antenna in the Gordon/Pymble area.
Remember Bob Green, great circuit theory teacher also Dan Taylor, Lee Klososcyk was our Maths teacher. Remember Milton Moore, had him in third year was very good in explaining practical circuit operation in our Communication subject.
Colin Tipping was helping in the TV studio with practical aspects associated with television. What about doing studio techniques when they arranged for the girls doing Secretarial Studies to come over while we practiced camera operation? I think it was John Marsden that had the leg close ups!
Remember the cameras, one was a Fernseh and the other a Pye. But most of all I remember the camera tube burn-in especially the Fernseh (TCN9).
I am sure most would remember doing our TV Certificate practical section at the technical collage. Who can remember these television books, Fink, Chinn, Weaver and of course, Amos & Birkinshaw
I can remember when Peter Ollier and I turned 21 (on the same day), down to the Lane Cove Pub, didn’t do any work that afternoon. Had my 21st at Chatswood town hall where many trainees attended.
Remember working as part of my training as the vision switcher for around 12 months working on many shows such as, Any Question, Six o’clock Rock, many plays and operas which over the time I’ve forgotten. Oh then what about ‘Café Continental’, remember the falling light (John Hicks rings a bell but I could be wrong).
I can remember Harry Pringle watching the tele-recording of the last week’s show where a dancer ended up showing more then she would have wanted when part of her top covering slipped. I am sure we can all remember working with the lighting riggers, people such as Etzio Belli (was employed as a Technicians Assistant) and then Jack Povey to name a few.
I can remember working in the audio section with people like Bill Biddle, Bill Ramsay and Larry Sitsky (he could play the piano rather well) and what about gentle Ben from Sound Effects. Also remember Fred Haynes with his version of the RT&H TV receiver sitting on the old lighting console in Studio 21. I am sure we can all remember the old dimmer bank, very noisy. I can remember the reed relays in the Marconi vision switcher going faulty during rehearsal and also while "on air" and cleaning them with a piece of paper.
Heard a story long ago about Bill Boonzager where snakes started to crawl up the microphone boom either studio 21 or the old Arcon, can’t remember which now.
I can remember vision switching for ‘Woman’s World’ one day where the presentation spot was also been done. I remember being asked to fade up camera and there was Mary Rossi sitting on Michael Charlton’s knee-a quick dip to black then fade up again and everything normal again, well almost. Michael ad libbed and said "I hope you weren’t watching just then" that was real television.
Live television in those days kept everyone on their toes. Remember ‘Hit Parade’ and the fashion shows. What about the live cooking demonstrations? We all had a good feed after some of them. Can also remember Barry Brown from Stamp Corner (I think that’s what it was called) on the children’s program. Gave him what I thought was a rare stamp for him to check up on but never did receive an answer or the stamp back.
Remember when Sabrina came to the studios, where did all those people come from? People packed the studio viewing room and the lighting grid catwalk – it must have been over loaded. Also do you remember the peeling on the CPS Emitron cameras in Studio 23 when the News Reader would turn over the sheet of paper he was reading from. No auto cues in those days.
Those of us that started in those early days will no doubt remember breaking for tea around 6pm and returning to put the 7pm news bulletin to air. During that time the transmitter would put up a test card. I also remember when working Christmas Day where we ceased transmission after the morning Church Service around 12am and re-opening at 2pm.
I remember Jeff Taylor and I being called up before the Federal police - very nasty, you were deemed guilty and had to prove your innocence. What was this about you may ask? Jeff and I were asked to return the rear projection screen from Studio 22 to Studio 21, by Dick Cohen who was the TP, which we did. Next day we were called up before (I think it was Dave Pritchard at the time) because the rear projection screen was found ripped. We were the last ones known to have touched it and to this day I can say that both Jeff and I aren’t guilty. The Federal Police were pretty rough on the way they questioned us; you must remember we were pretty young at the time and very innocent of this type of proceedings. In the end I obtained a letter from a Solicitor and my local Clergy on behalf of Jeff and myself stating the facts and when duly signed, I handed that to C Eng. I am sure that incident slowed down my promotion for some time, left a bitter taste as we received no support from engineering at all.
What about the Christmas shows in studio 22 (I think) and also the hay rides around the Studio building.
Telecine - who could forget the old EMI flying spot scanners (affectionately called the BOAT ANCHORS). I can remember John Kitson and Bert Pearson. Remember the setting up of the 35mm slide scanner facility. What about the Pye Vidicon Telecine chains, not the best equipment in its day. I can remember one Saturday evening when patching up the Westrex audio replay units stopping the ‘on air’ machine. The patching required patching a muli cannon connector which had to be placed straight in and not at an angle.
What about your time in MCR -Ted Travers, Phil Travares, Kevin Tulk and Grahame Sibley to name a few. Remember cleaning and polishing the racks? I remember checking the Marconi SPG’s - the timer circuits on the small CRO tube - what was it 5 and 2 dots. Three racks of equipment for two SPG’s and genlock unit, all now available in a 40pin IC.
Remember when Brian Clift fell through the floor into the old lines room (PMG interface to co-axial tail etc. to the transmitter building. He fell on a Band Saw in the scenery runway, which wasn’t as luck had it switched on at the time of the accident.
Remember picking up your pay (cash of cause) in the front entrance waiting room?
Links and OBs was another area that we gained experience in – I remember climbing little toot (the standby and also the main antenna for start of transmission with the three section super turnstile). The main tower and antenna was not unloaded from the ship in time because of a dock strike.
I can remember straddling the Raytheon link head unit mounted on the edge of the platform where you had to plug in the signal strength meter so you could pan for maximum signal - I can also remember dropping the meter from the tower. The old link hut was situated between the TX main building and the tower.
I can also remember doing a sports telecast from Manly oval where the link repeater was situated on North Head. Unfortunately that day (I think it was the tall ships or something like that) were on Sydney Harbor and the road to North Head was choked with cars. I think it was Bill Aubrey and I with the help of the police managed to make way for the link repeater van to move to its selected site. While on the move (was very slow) we managed to set up the links on the roof and have the signal check through to Gore Hill just prior to transmission.
Talking about North Head what about the repeater site used to receive signals back from north of Sydney i.e. Newcastle etc. I remember working with Alex McDonald, we were parked within the Army Barracks. I remember packing up from an OB repeater site at Dover Heights and a gust of wind blow up and I had to let go of the dish or go with it.
Another job I had while in OB/Links was to Build and paint Jack Christopher’s Portable Link Hut. This was used during those Sydney to Melbourne and Visa versa link hookups. What a feat that was in those days - a tribute to the link staff and link supervisor of that time.
Can anyone remember building the videotape leader generators in the basement engineering laboratory? It was near the stair well from the ground floor near CN20 continuity control. Ian Shearman I think had something to do with the design of those units. Those involved in wiring the units included Colin McPherson, Brian Thomas, myself and probably others, which at this moment I can’t remember.
Remember Rex Henry, Jim Lyons and others? Rex was a cameraman before he moved to presentation, I also remember a girl called Clare, can’t place the surname. What about the announce booth for ‘voice overs’ – I especially remember John West and Tanya Halesworth - I can remember her having some of my fish and chips one evening. What a stunner she was!
At the end of our training we all graduated to technicians at a formal function. We were allowed to have a 1st and 2nd preference as to where we would like to be placed. Mine was Links and Videotape.